Mountain View Voice

Opinion - December 17, 2010

Arborist makes case for keeping Annex intact

by Heather Ellison

I am deeply concerned about plans to convert a large portion of the Cuesta Park Annex to a flood basin. My understanding is that in doing so, many of the historic trees in the Annex will be destroyed, along with the critical habitat, natural beauty, and numerous benefits that they provide to the wildlife and to the community of Mountain View.

Though I no longer live in Mountain View, I was born at El Camino Hospital and spent my entire childhood in the city. My family lived on Lola Lane, just blocks from Cuesta Park and its Annex, and I spent much of my childhood playing among the trees in its orchard.

I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back I am acutely aware of what a rare opportunity the Cuesta Park Annex gave me and the many other children who played there. The orchard provided many unique experiences to us — the chance for suburban children to play among wild birds, and other wildlife; to sit quietly and enjoy the peace of the trees and plants; to play in the tree house that had been built in an almond tree by children long before us, and to spend time in a place that was largely left to nature, an opportunity that is rarely found in a suburban environment. While I spent many happy days enjoying Cuesta Park itself, there was always something special and unique about the Annex and its wildness that I simply could not have found anywhere else.

The orchard at the Annex also gave me with a rare sense of place and of the living history of my hometown that I was able to experience directly. The trees are the last stand of the legacy of orchards on which the City of Mountain View prospered and grew. With the construction of the Y.M.C.A. behind Cuesta Park, and the ever-expanding built environment, nearly all of the historic orchards have been destroyed. With the loss of the Annex trees, children growing up in Mountain View will have no way to experience their city's history except through the pages of books. While new trees can be planted, the history that lives in these trees can never be replaced.

On a personal level, the Cuesta Park Annex has shaped the course of my life immensely. My experiences there began a life-long love of trees and an appreciation for nature in the urban environment. Today as an adult, I work as a certified arborist and urban forester. I often have the chance to meet urban youth who have not had the access to nature that I was lucky to have as a child in Mountain View. I see the effect it has had on them, and at the same time the sense of wonder and new-found commitment to their communities that it engenders in those few who are able to work through our youth program.

I have come to realize the importance of hands-on access to the natural environment in the ongoing struggle towards a more sustainable future. In this day and age of global warming and ever-increasing stress on our natural resources, it is vital that our communities have access to natural spaces that not only provide critical habitat to its native wildlife, and an important resource for the community, but also serve as a reminder of the importance of the natural world and inspire future generations to work towards its preservation.

The benefits of trees and open space in urban and suburban communities are numerous, and among them is trees' ability to dramatically reduce the amount of storm water run-off, decreasing the need for floodwater retention systems. Removing trees and open space to build a flood basin to deal with storm water that is largely the result of removing trees and open space seems counter-intuitive. While the importance of protecting homes from the potential of floods is undeniable, it is my sincere belief that the immense environmental, historic, economic, and social benefits of the Cuesta Park Annex are such that other solutions to the flooding potential should be strongly considered before destroying this valuable and irreplaceable community resource.

It is with deep regret that I was not able to attend the Nov. 29 meeting with the Santa Clara Water District to share my thoughts in person, but I am hopeful that this letter will help in the effort to save this valuable community resource.

Heather Ellison is certified arborist and a former Mountain View resident. She now lives in San Francisco.

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